Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

February 8, 2015
by leesensei

#Teach2Teach Question 3: Most Troubling Teaching Experience

This is the third  question in the #Teach2Teach series, a collaboration with Amy Lenord (@alenord) and Karen Tharrington, Foreign Language Education Program Coordinator at North Carolina State University. After finding out her pre-service education students were nervous about engaging in the #langchat conversation with their own comments and questions Amy encouraged her to have them submit questions to share with the world.

Question 3 comes from Jennifer who has asked a tough question, but one that every teacher has an answer to no matter what content area they teach.  Jennifer asked…”What has been your most troublesome experience with teaching and how did you handle it?”

I thought a lot about this question and what my answer would be. There were the fleeting thoughts to blog about the time before I started using carefully constructed rubrics that I awarded a student 19/20 and couldn’t tell her why she lost the mark. Then there was the moment when I reminded a veteran teacher – in front of his student teacher – about something and he took it to be my embarrassing him in front of his new charge. But the more I thought the more I realized the most troubling experience I have had teaching is that moment when I realized that ‘how’ I was approaching second language education in my classes was not what I thought it should be. That moment when I realized that I was spending more time teaching – discreetly and overtly and mainly – grammar. That I was pushing my students to learn reams of vocabulary that were not relevant to them – because they were in the book. And that communication, risk and personal responsibility for learning were lacking in my classroom.

I’ve written several times that I was the “get the perfect textbook/workbook program and you’re done!” kind of teacher. I remember being in my principal’s office begging for funds because ” if I got this program I’d never have to get another one again!” Along with the text/workbook reliance I was someone who was highly skilled at teaching Japanese – or rather teaching about Japanese. My students were drilled  and coached to perfection. But the reliance was on writing – and if your writing was poor your chances of success in my class were too. Moreover if your brain didn’t work like I taught – good luck.  It was a happy place for me – I had everything set – and then suddenly it wasn’t.

I don’t know quite when I became so troubled about HOW I was teaching – I don’t recall a moment in time when the feeling suddenly occurred. But I do remember going into my principal’s office and telling him that after 14 years of teaching I was bored. “I think that I am done” I told him. “I have no motivation, I can’t get hyped up about my lessons, I’m just going through the motions.”. He was really encouraging – and urged me to think about my classroom and try to identify what it was that was making me so – well – bored about what was happening. At the same time I stumbled upon #langchat on twitter. The more I lurked then participated the more I realized that I wasn’t bored..okay I was…but rather that somewhere inside I was realizing that I didn’t like my tightly bundled program. That I was spending more time teaching about things than challenging students to use what they were learning. That my classroom was way too focused on what I wanted my students to learn and not enough on what they wanted to do. And  so I began to change it up. My most troubling experience was that I was not the teacher, leader, coach that I wanted to be….

The more I reflect the more I think that my troubling time came as I evolved and grew as a teacher. That it came about because I was well into my career when I had been ‘in the business’ for a number of years. That there comes a point I think in any career where you make a decision to grow – or hopefully go.  I’m glad that my decision was to move forward – acting upon what was so unsettling to me – a journey that I love and am still on today.















January 12, 2015
by leesensei
1 Comment

#Teach2Teach Question 1…

MP900341413My #langchat amiga Amy Lenord (and if you aren’t following @alenord and her blog you need to!) has started a new project/hashtag. To quote from her first post:

I am so excited to start my #Teach2Teach series which is a collaboration project I am doing with Karen Tharrington, Foreign Language Education Program Coordinator at North Carolina State University. She and I met for the first time at ACTFL 2014 and came up with the idea for her Methods students to send their most pressing questions to me so that an experienced classroom teacher can answer them.  On that note, here we go! My first official #Teach2Teach post will be answering Garrett’s question. Here’s what he asked: 
“How do all these teachers balance the workload between teaching and planning?  Now that I am getting ready to perform all this work, I am beginning to wonder how anyone manages it at all.”

Amy’s answer is right on the mark – and I wanted to add a couple of comments of my own…

Amy has touched on many of the key things that teachers do to try to ‘plan’ effectively and maintain that balance. I would really second her stress of a ‘calendar’. I plan and keep my lessons in Evernote (I like the accessibility and my journey is documented here) but also need to have a paper copy of my overall unit/year plan. It’s my road map and I like having the ‘big picture’ to plan timing and length of what I am doing. I remember that when I first started teaching I tended to underestimate the time students would take doing something so I was constantly revising my timelines. Amy is right that this is the number 1 challenge that we as teachers face – balancing prepping with teaching (and occasionally life!)

If I can add 3 things to what Amy has written about they are..

1)    KNOW IT’S THE REALITY: It will be all-consuming at the start. I found that I was planning, teaching, reworking, planning, teaching like a hamster running on a wheel at the start. It will be this way – and its important to accept that it is. Trust that you will find more time later on when you are not planning or teaching but actually living. HOWEVER, the reality is as you start teaching that your assignment may change year to year…so be kind to yourself and sometimes what you have is okay…

2)     ACCEPT IT: This is a reality for all teachers so at some point you have to accept that you will not be hitting it out of the park for every lesson. I remember my practice teaching and being on the phone with my Dad (a veteran teacher) freaking out because I didn’t have an ‘amazing’ lesson for the next day. He knew his daughter well – got me to breathe and asked ‘will it work and will they be moving forward to meeting learning outcomes?’ When I squeaked out a ‘yes’ he said ‘you can overplan all the time- go to bed and be fresh for tomorrow’. So sometimes you will have a lesson that’s ‘good enough’ and sometimes that’s fine.

3)    YOU WILL PROBABLY NEVER FIND THAT PERFECT BALANCE: I have to tell you that the planning time isn’t going to be over soon. Once you get through your first couple of years – years spent in survival – you will hopefully start to reflect on your lessons/units and I’m here to tell you that you will want to change them. I used to think I could have a nice orderly book/binder and be ‘all planned’. You can’t be. As you evolve as a teacher you will change, grow, alter your outlook. You will probably not be satisfied with how you are doing things now…and will need to spend time planning changes. If/when you do – make sure you do them incrementally. I’m in my 20th year of teaching and I’m still taking time to plan new units, new approaches to old units etc. My husband keeps saying ‘don’t you have it all set yet?’ and my answer is always ‘no’.

Looking forward to Question 2!



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